Facebook contempt case: juror jailed for eight months
Published 16/06/2011 | 12:58
A juror who communicated with the defendant through Facebook has been jailed for eight months for contempt of court.
Joanne Fraill, the first juror to be prosecuted in this way for using the internet, admitted at London's High Court using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, (34), a defendant already acquitted in an ongoing multimillion-pound drug trial in Manchester last year.
Fraill, (40) from Manchester, also admitted conducting an internet search into Sewart's boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant, while the jury was still deliberating.
Jamie Sewart was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years after being found guilty of contempt.
Both women were prosecuted for contempt by Attorney General Dominic Grieve in the first case of its kind.
The ten-week drugs trial at Manchester Crown Court last August involved multiple charges and defendants and was one of a series of four trials estimated to have cost £6 million.
It was as the third attempt was nearing its conclusion that it emerged the two women had been communicating.
Sewart, a mother of two from Bolton, had already been acquitted of conspiracy to supply drugs when Fraill looked her up on Facebook but the jury was still deliberating its verdicts for three of her co-defendants.
Peter Wright QC, for Fraill, claimed that she had felt a certain empathy with Sewart and wanted to express her "cathartic relief" at the result, which meant she was freed from jail after 14 months on remand.
She set up a profile using the name Jo Smilie but her own photograph was clearly visible. Sewart admitted that she thought it was a juror but did not think she was doing anything wrong.
Fraill's first message read: "You should know me, I've cried with you enough," referring to the emotions shown by the jury during the trial.
During the course of the ensuing conversation, Sewart asked: "What's happenin with the other charge?"
Fraill replied: "Cant get anywaone to go either no one budging pleeeeee dont say anything cause jamie they could call mmiss trial and I will get 4cked to0.
Ten minutes later she added: "Dont worry about that chge no way it can stay hung for me lol".
The conversations also disclosed that the two women had been communicating in court with "nods and blinks".
The following day, Sewart told her solicitor about the conversation and her computer was seized.
When confronted, Fraill immediately admitted making contact with the defendant and revealing details about the case. She also admitted conducting internet research about Sewart's boyfriend Gary Knox, a co-defendant.
The case was abandoned and a fourth trial subsequently took place to deal with the three remaining defendants.
That trial finished in December but an order was made preventing the details being published until contempt proceedings were brought against Fraill and Sewart.
Knox, (35), a convicted drug dealer, was jailed for six years after being found guilty of paying off a police officer.
He has since challenged his conviction on the basis of jury misconduct because of the Facebook conversation.